Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Rhetoric of Protests

The events of February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida were mind numbingly upsetting. I, like many of you, saw the news and immediately teared up. It is so frustrating and scary that these school shootings are still happening. And frankly, any mass shooting.

Recently, many high schools in my area had groups of students stage walk outs for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 lives lost during the tragedy. I am encouraged by the active role our young people are taking in keeping the conversation of school safety and gun safety in the eye of the media, the public, and our elected officials. However, when reading the comments on the Facebook posts about these walk outs I realized many people did not share my enthusiasm.

It made me think about how these students can be taken more seriously. As I am teaching Composition II this semester which focuses on argumentation and rhetorical strategies my mind went immediately to rhetorical appeals.

Protesting is a rhetorical act. So, when I got to the high school where I am teaching a dual enrollment course, where the students had walked out the day before, I addressed this with them.

How can you, as teens, use rhetorical appeals to strengthen your protests? How did you or could you have added ethos/credibility to your walk out? How did you or could you employ pathos/emotional appeals? What role does logos have in a protest?

They had great insight. Going back to class instead of leaving for the rest of the day after the 17 minutes establishes credibility because it shows they weren't just trying to skip class. Having spoken to the administration about the plan first established credibility. Being willing to accept detentions if they didn't have their IDs to check back in with as they reentered the school established credibility. Etc.

Have your students participated in a protest? Are they planning a walk out in March or April with some of the other national organized movements? Is this something you can discuss with them?

What I liked about doing this with my students is it showed a real world application of what they're learning. I know another colleague had her students watch Emma's speech and they discussed what worked and what didn't within it. They looked at different rhetorical techniques she used.

Our students are hungry to discuss these issues because they affect them. There will be differing views as to what the right course of action is, but all students should have the chance to learn the best ways to express their views in a way that may result in their views being taken seriously.

These kids are our future. Let's arm them with the tools they need to be champions of change.

Thanks for reading,

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